Indigenous-led protest blocks access to Oka Park over coronavirus fears

Members of the Mohawk community of Kanesatake have blocked access to the Oka Provincial Park despite the government allowing it to reopen today.

Members of the Mohawk community of Kanesatake have blocked access to the Oka Provincial Park despite the government allowing it to reopen today. The Mohawk members did this out of fear of COVID-19 spreading to their community, according to the National Post.

The mayor of Oka, Pascal Quevillon, said access to the park became blocked around 8:30 a.m. Oka provincial park had been closed for the past number of weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19, along with many other provincial parks.

Chief Serge Simon, the grand chief of Kanesatake, had previously sent a letter to Premier Legault, asking him to keep the park closed until his community could be consulted, as many members of his community live around the park's trails. He and many members of the Mohawk community fear that coming travellers may be bringing the virus with them.

"These people coming from highly infected areas — Montreal, Montérégie, Laval — pose a direct threat to our community if they come here in large numbers," said Simon. "As a First Nation, 50 per cent of our people have underlying conditions, and we don't do well in pandemics," continued Simon. "History has taught us that."

Quebec police Sgt. Claude Denis gave few details to the press, however he did confirm that police have been to the scene and are monitoring the situation.

Simon Boivin is a spokesperson for Quebec's park network agency and said that the Oka Park is open, however access will be limited due to the Indigenous-led protest.

Quebec Parks will not be opening campgrounds, equipment rental shops, washrooms or any other other buildings, according to Boivin. A day pass can be purchased online so that visitors won't have to come into contact with any park staff. In the meantime, the park will "really rely on people's sense of responsibility," said Boivin. "If the government gives us any new directives, we will act accordingly."